Solomon Hughes

Life of the Struggle

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Review of 'Free at Last!', Tony Benn, Hutchinson £25

Tony Benn is equally loyal to socialism and the Labour Party. The latest edition of his diaries, covering the last decade, describes a period when the rightward gallop of Labour brought those two loyalties into greater conflict. The decay of Westminster politics is so great, Benn jokes, leaving parliament leaves him 'free at last' to be involved in politics.

Pensions: One Hand in the Till

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Pensions--once the bedrock of the welfare state--are under attack as never before. Solomon Hughes explains why this is connected to the spread of global capital.

Pensions have leapt from the personal finance supplements to the front page. Last month the 'Daily Mail' argued that government should 'end this pensions disgrace' by cracking down on management 'pension wreckers'. The 'Mail' declared, 'It is outrageous that loyal, prudent workers should be bilked out of their pension' as 'cynical employers' walk away from their obligations, closing schemes while enjoying their own 'generous pensions'. Not only did this arch Tory newspaper call for legal restraint on the employers, it also called for a 'government safety net' for pensioners.

Immigration - Labour Puts Asylum in Focus

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Labour's intellectuals prepared the party's current lurch to the right on asylum and immigration. Blairite thinkers in the 'Policy Network' said Labour must adopt the policies of the far right to stop the growth of the far right, and in particular must attack asylum seekers.

Recent initiatives by Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Jack Straw show the message was received and understood.

Media Ownership: The Sky's the Limit for Broadcasters

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'Culture' minister Tessa Jowell's new media bill, released last month, lets the market rip through the television industry, with Rupert Murdoch set to benefit.

Jowell launched the bill just as her previous free market prescription for our screens, digital television, collapsed, leaving behind bad debts, and the bad memory of Johnny Vegas and his monkey.

Jowell's new bill is trumpeted as 'a significant deregulation in media ownership to promote competition'. The deregulation lets Rupert Murdoch bid for a free to viewer television station, Channel 5, to add to his satellite and newspaper empire. It also allows regional television firms like Granada and Carlton to merge.

A Fistful of Dollars

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The deadly arms trade between Britain, the US and Israel

Colin Powell effectively went on his 'peace mission' to Israel with a suitcase of guns. Every US call for Israeli restraint is matched by millions of dollars in military aid and huge consignments of US arms. It's not the Jewish-US lobby driving this support for Israel, but those old Texas issues of guns and oil. A well armed Israel can better keep the 'balance of power' in the Middle East, ensuring cheap flowing oil. The arms sales keep up the share prices of Lockheed, Raytheon, Boeing and Textron. Britain hangs on to the coat tails of US policy and also arms to Israel.

Enron: Digging the Dirt on New Labour's Friends

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The fall of Enron is a very British scandal because it relied on a British cast as well as friendships with Bush and Clinton to give it respectability. Lord Wakeham sat on the board, chairing the firm's 'Audit Committee'. Labour invited Enron executives to its 'gala dinners'.

In return the party received somewhere between £15,000 and £30,000 a year from 1997 to 2001 from Enron. Even the queen was roped into the sanitisation of Enron, making Enron Europe chairman Ralph Hodge a 'Commander of the British Empire'.

The Market Abandons New Labour

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Alan Milburn's plan to hand NHS patients to Bupa adds a new intensity to Labour's privatisation plans. However, his party's other market-driven flagships are sinking, stuck in the doldrums or simply failing to leave the dock.

The government has reversed its strategy on university fees, student loans, Railtrack and Education Action Zones. The 'Public-Private Partnerships' for London Underground and British Nuclear Fuels are near to collapse. The same scheme took flight in air traffic control but is currently in slow spiral descent. Adding this to Blunkett's downgrade of cannabis from class B to class C, and his announcement that the hated asylum vouchers are to be scrapped has led many commentators to talk about 'U-turns', and a newer, bolder and more progressive New Labour.


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